The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has published a study earlier this year, showing the impacts of COVID-19 on people’s mental and behavioral health.
According to the study, about one out of four parents have reported that their mental health is worsening, and one out of seven parents reported an increase in behavioral challenges in dealing with their kids. Indeed, the pandemic has led many to a certain level struggle.
Their study was focused on young children, but they saw a pattern among adolescents. Additional research showed that teenagers had reported an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety, all associated with eating disorders.
The Mental Health of Teens During the Pandemic
Board-certified adolescent medicine specialist Hina J. Talib, M.D., is a well-known doctor who runs the Instagram page TeenHealthDoc. According to her, teenagers are experiencing a flare of previously known mental health issues as well as novel health conditions.
She described this phenomenon as the second-wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and said that various reasons could have caused it. This includes loneliness and isolation as a result of physical distancing and quarantine measures, which forced people to stay at home.
Talib added that this back-to-school season had created anticipatory anxiety among teenagers and families, which could lead to eating disorders, which parents should be concerned about.
Anna M. Lutz, MPH, RD, LDN, explained that eating disorders are triggered in an attempt to gain control of the situation for which many people, young or old, do not have. The old normal that people used to enjoy no longer exists, but the new normal of many restrictions are in place to keep the virus from spreading.
Several news reports have also focused on the potential effect of the pandemic on children’s weight, which may lead them to over-control or be restrictive to their food. Lutz said that eating disorders had become the coping tools of many teens, although unhealthy.
Eating disorders may stem from trauma, and the pandemic has triggered it.
Monitoring and Addressing Teen Behavior
Families should be aware of the increased potential mental health struggles right now. Lutz has outlined some of the signs that parents should look out for in their teenagers, such as eating in secret, eating separately from the rest of the family, becoming fixated on exercise, and refusing to stop even after being injured, leaving large amounts of food uneaten, self-isolating and losing weight.
Moreover, Talib said that some things that the child has been doing could also be a sign of a problem. Parents should be aware and vigilant if their teens would say something like, “I am so fat,” “If I gain weight, I will be disgusting,” “My stomach is huge,” or “I will do 200 extra crunches today.”
All of those statements should be red flags to parents, and that they should talk to them first, explaining that there have been noticeable behavioral changes in them that makes you, as a parent, worry.
In that way, teenagers would have time to reflect on their behaviors and open up about what they are going through without fear of judgment. Let them know that you are concerned about their well-being.
But still, many teenagers would try to hide their eating disorder and say that nothing is wrong with them. Parents should pay attention to their child’s body language, reaction, and their own gut feeling.
Talib said that now is not a great time to wait. Parents should ensure that their children are getting the right kind of help and should not shy away from asking doctors the necessary questions to treat eating disorders in their teens.
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